Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said there are “vague provisions” in the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the Philippines and the United States that needs to be thoroughly reviewed.
De Lima said the case against US Marine Joseph Scott Pemberton over the killing of transgender Jeffrey “Jennifer” Laude last October highlighted the need to go over the 1999 agreement.
The first issue raised by de Lima is custody. Under the VFA, the United States has custody of American soldiers who run afoul of Philippine law. The Philippines, meanwhile, has jurisdiction of a case against a US serviceman.
Still, de Lima, who is a member of the government’s VFA commission, said the custody issue is an “inevitable and recurring problem” that must be addressed soon.
The custody of US soldier Daniel Smith after he was charged with raping a Filipino woman issue also became a serious sticking point in 2005.
“We are having these problems because vague provisions in the VFA are prone or susceptible to varying and differing implementations,” De Lima said.
Manila and Washington have been unsuccessful in coming up with clear implementing guidelines on the VFA.
“One of the problems is until now, the implementing guidelines have not been completed. We tried working on it for two year or more, but there are certain aspects where both sides couldn’t agree on,” de Lima said.
With the guidelines, the US cannot be compelled to surrender Pemberton to Philippine authorities to comply with the arrest warrant issued by an Olongapo City court.
De Lima agreed with Senate President Franklin Drilon that the government needs to revisit the provisions of the VFA on custody and detention.
Article V Paragraph 6 of the VFA is particularly contentious. It states that in extraordinary cases, the Philippine government has to present its position to the US government regarding custody of an American serviceman.
The US insists on detaining Pemberton at the Mutual Defense Board (MDB) and Security Engagement Board (SEB) facility in Camp Aguinaldo, saying the VFA provides for their custody of American servicemen until completion of all judicial proceedings.
The Olongapo RTC Branch 74 has suspended the start of the trial for 60 days while the DOJ studies the custody question.